A café for cannabis? As marijuana legalization spreads through the United States (and areas like Washington DC) more and more people are treating marijuana usage as a social activity to be shared not just with friends but strangers too. Enter the cannabis cafe: Already a popular idea in European countries such as the Netherlands, a cannabis cafe is a place to be seen, hang out, eat amazing food and smoke some of the finest bud available.
If you’ve never been to a cannabis cafe before we’ve got all the information you need below – Everything to expect, where to find them, what’s on the menu, and how they’re weathering the tumultuous year of 2020. Let’s dive in.
What is a Cannabis Cafe?
Imagine a place where you can relax, have a drink, get served top-notch chef-prepared cuisine, and have a blunt rolled just for you all at the same time. Though it may sound like a futuristic dream to those of us that still remember a world before legalization of marijuana became common place, the time of the weed cafe is now.
Something akin to restaurants crossed with dispensaries, a cannabis cafe allows customers of legal age (in ideal, non-pandemic conditions; see more details below) can find a comfortable place to sit and relax while enjoying food, drink, and a hearty smoke. Whether or not you can purchase weed itself at the establishment depends highly on the city or state you’re in, as some states allow for sales and consumption in the same venue (like California) while others do not (such as Colorado).
Cannabis Sales & Consumption
For states where sales & consumption cannot happen under the same roof it’s strictly a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bud) situation – The cafe will gladly let you spark up there but while they’ll provide the usual amenities of a cafe you’ll need to provide your own smoke. In areas where purchase & consumption can take place in the same location expect to find both traditional wait staff handling the food and drink, and a specialized roaming budtender for your cannabis needs (sometimes referred to as a “flower host”).
These hosts & hostesses provide the usual services you’d expect from wait staff at any other cafe, but also come with a bevvy of cannabis-related knowledge; helpful, as patrons are often provided with two separate menus – One for food & drink, and the other for smoke & cannabis edibles. Be warned: A “tokage fee” (similar to a “corkage fee”) may be levied if you bring your own cannabis in with you at a location where sales are legal; how much this can cost varies but expect fees of upwards of $30 if you choose to bring your stash from home.
Ordering Your Smoke
How ordering takes place depends highly on your area – In Los Angeles, for example, it’s illegal to serve both food and marijuana as the same establishment, meaning your waiter and your budtender technically work for two different companies; cannabis consumption licenses and food & drink licenses are considered incompatible under CA law. Typically you’ll order your food and drink separately from any THC/CBD you want to consume, and will also pay separately for each; since the two services are being provided by two different companies, payment will need to be split as well.
Cannabis menu options range from edibles to flower, including pre-roll joints (including filter tip) and even a bevvy of unique smoking devices & glass. Specific pre-packaged edibles are also common place, with product selections ranging from the typical THC-infused brownies to cannabis teas and other drinks selections – From the beginning smoker to the seasoned weed veteran, there’s bound to be something new on the cafe’s cannabis menu to try.
Eat, Drink and Smoke
Once settled in with the consumables of your choosing you’re free to light up and enjoy. Most locations will come with hefty vents located above each table, leading to an air filtration system that helps keep the venue (and the surrounding street/public areas) from building up too much smoke. Depending on where you’re at there may be a limitation on how long you can sit at a table, as long waiting lists, typically well-booked reservations and a lot of eager clientele tend to be fairly common, so settling in for a long afternoon of relaxation may not be in the cards.
The food itself is often a large draw for a cannabis restaurant; after all, smoking and the munchies kinda go hand-in-hand. Locations like the Original Cannabis Cafe, based in West Hollywood, California (formerly known as “Lowell Cafe”, and also the first cannabis restaurant in the United States), offer a variety of highly snackable dishes, and reviews of their menu usually rank high.
Cannabis-Free but Tasty Food
Though not allowed to actively infuse the cafe’s creations with THC, executive chef Andrea Drummer crafts and prepares a wide (if not slightly pricey) variety of items, including their gourmet “smash burger”, vegan nacho platters, and other “high”-end comfort foods designed to tempt the taste buds of non-smokers and stoners alike.
Otherwise, the cannabis cafe is filled with like-minded people all enjoying the same things: A good meal, good company, and (hopefully) good smoke. What you may not find is alcohol on the premises – Areas like, again, California do not allow alcohol sales in the same location as a cannabis dispensary. Some clever shops have gotten around this by having a separate-but-attached bar area or patio that sells alcohol while not selling marijuana, but in general if you want to get both your drink on and your smoke on, doing this in the same restaurant may be a bit tricky.
Cannabis Cafes in the Time of COVID
Unfortunately, the concepts of “social distancing” and “social smoking” don’t go hand-in-hand, and as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to effect America many establishments, cannabis-related and otherwise, have been forced to adapt their business to safety first, cannabis second.
One excellent example of changing to meet the times is seen in the aforementioned Original Cannabis Cafe near Los Angeles, CA. Where customers once gathered inside the restaurant and on their patio, the Original Cannabis Cafe is now offering contactless curbside services, allowing patrons to either place their order before arriving or sending out a dedicated flower host (at a responsible six-foot distance) out to the parking lot to help take orders. Wipe downs of equipment and card readers help keep things sanitized and safe between every customer, and employees wear face masks at all times when interacting with the public.
However, while the Original Cannabis Cafe has done well to carry on in these uncertain times, other locations haven’t been quite so lucky; in our research, every other cannabis cafe & lounge we researched in the United States seems to have, if not closed out-right, at least shuttered their doors temporarily. A long list of more lounge-esque locations such as Denver, Colorado’s “Loopr” and San Fransisco’s “Moe Greens” have had to shutter their smoking areas due to the ongoing COVID outbreak, and only time will tell if they’ll be able to reopen their doors any time soon.
And, unfortunately, COVID-19 has done it’s damage on potential cannabis restaurants that were set to open across the country in 2020. Expansions of Lowell Farm’s cannabis cafe concept, set to spread from West Hollywood to areas such as Las Vegas, have been put on hiatus due to coronavirus-related troubles, and many other such locales have been forced to reconsider their public options in the face of the pandemic.
Unfortunately this also means that many locations no longer allow for the types of specialized events that once drew customers into the door – With not wanting to see too many people crammed into a single space events such as comedy nights and other social gatherings have been placed on hold, unsure when they will return.
Of course for those not interested in taking a risk most states with legalized consumption of cannabis have a bevvy of delivery options available; though they may not come with a side of fries, you can still at least ensure you get your weed without having to brave the great outdoors.
What Does the MORE Act Mean for Cannabis Cafes?
From our “breaking news” department, literally as this article was being drafted (December 4th, 2020) the United States House of Representatives passed the MORE Act, seeking to decriminalize marijuana usage throughout the entirety of the US. What impact this will have on venues such as cannabis cafes remains to be seen but as the act of “decriminalization” and “legalization” are two wholly separate topics the odds are it’s overall impact on legal cannabis businesses will likely be small. This also precludes the bill passing through the Republican-controlled Senate, where there are many staunch opponents to cannabis use such as Senator Mitch McConnell.
From West Hollywood to Las Vegas and beyond, the cannabis cafe is definitely an idea who’s time has come in the face of wide-spread legalization across the United States. We hope our article has been interesting and informative, and once things (hopefully) get back to normal in a post-COVID US? We wish you happy smoking.